Are Out of Style
A rock band is, at it's best, a collaboration between people of diverse musical backgrounds that come together to produce a sounds that is both the sum of it's parts as well as something on it's own. The Sobriquets, a Philadelphia based rock band, has four members that all have differing approaches to their craft, and by throwing in together they create something truly unique. On their new EP, "...Are Out of Style", the band combines their singer-songwriter approach with soaring three-part harmonies, ethereal guitars, and a backbone of tight rhythmic structure to produce their most accomplished release to date. Having all played in very different groups (punk bands, jazz combos, orchestras and choirs, to name a few), the Sobriquets call upon a range of experience to produce well-crafted songs that are both familiar and new to a wide range of audiences. The Sobriquets were formed by James Hearne and Dan Drago, both multi-instrumentalists and collaborators with each other for well over 14 years. They met as teenagers in Western New York where they shared a love not only for the big groups of the day (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead) but also the rootsy acoustic styles of bands like the Indigo Girls, Rusted Root, the Counting Crows, and Ani Difranco. "Every teenager can tell you how they felt the first time they heard 'Nevermind'," says Dan. "But I remember the first time I heard [Ani Difranco's song] 'Out of Range' on local radio, or 'Ahead By A Century' by the Tragically Hip. Songs like that definitely formed James' and my tastes, and still play a role in how we play today." After their college years took them to different places, the two musicians reformed and moved to Philadelphia in 2004. "It was fascinating to put us both back in a room together after so many years," reminisces James. "I had added love for folk music and old R&B to my collections, and Dan had pretty much lived in a college radio station for the last six years, and was heavily into trip-hop and electronic bands." Dan agrees: "I had discovered bands like Massive Attack and Everything But The Girl and Portishead. I became fascinated with drum machines and synths. James had been doing solo gigs with just him and a guitar, and playing in a college rock band. We couldn't see any reason why we had to compromise with our new styles, we'd just put it all together and see what happened." The two formed a band with three other Philadelphia locals that combined both rock and electronic elements, dubbed themselves Confusion About Weather, and played up and down the Northeast. When that band dissolved, James and Dan barely took a moment to shake off the dust before they were onto their next project, a combination of acoustic rock and laptop production. They immediately went to work on a new record, using the full capacity of their home studio to overdub folk instruments with synthesizers and drum samples to make the record they had wanted to make for years. Borrowing the French word for 'nickname', they became the Sobriquets. "After a few months of playing live, just the two of us, we both knew we had to bring in fresh blood or it was going to get really stagnant really fast," says James about the early days of the Sobriquets. The duo had been playing small rooms with just two guitars, a sampler and their voices, and felt they had to widen what they did live to keep it interesting for the audience as well as themselves. They were mostly done with their self-titled album, but found it difficult to capture all the studio layers and instruments they had laid down when they performed. Luckily, they came across bassist Josh Neale through a mutual friend, and the three clicked immediately. Josh has extensive experience playing in jazz combos and pit orchestras, as well as a background as metal musician. His new take on the Sobriquets material was just what James and Dan needed to shake things up. Dan can account the first time they all sat down to play in the fall of 2007. "I remember Josh coming in with an upright bass to our first practice. It had such a percussive sound, it really added a great deal to the band. Suddenly, I could start playing the guitar more as texture and layering, because now Josh had the rhythm and low end taken care of. A whole new world of arrangement and performance opened up." James adds, "Plus, he could sing like crazy! I finally could start writing the vocal arrangements I'd always wanted." Josh's bass was quickly dubbed onto a few tracks of the record (now even longer in the making), and the three started going up and down the east coast, to New York, Baltimore, New Jersey, Hartford and many other cities, playing clubs and festivals in support of their debut album. But there was still something missing. "Everyone we talked to while on the road seemed to say the same thing," says Dan. "They'd say 'You guys are great, but you should really get a drummer.'" The three Sobriquets had a lot going for them: a rootsy, folk-rock style, tight harmonies, washes of guitar noise and the ability to fit all their gear into Josh's SUV. But their fans and the people they shared stages with each night were right, and so, through another mutual friend, entered Nick Hughes into the Sobriquets. Like the addition of Josh, Nick opened up even more opportunities for the band to refine their sound. Nick had spent the last few years playing in a handful of indie-rock bands, and brought fresh ears in terms of rhythm and dynamics. Josh switched over to electric bass and began to play with more power and melody on the low end. James could focus more on his vocal delivery and less on having to keep the rhythm with his acoustic guitar. And Dan could finally let loose his arsenal of guitar effects to their full potential, playing even more layers of controlled noise and his unique approach to lead guitar. And they continued to write intricate vocal harmonies which, anchored by a stronger rhythm section, were even more impressive live. The band hit the road again, more aggressively than before. They did a short tour up through the Northeast in the fall of 2008, including packed houses on Halloween weekend in both Hartford and New York City (the latter gig resulting in a party with touring mates Columbia Fields so epic that the band insists it may still be going on). The band entered a Virginia studio in March of 2009 with one goal in mind: to create a record that truly captured the sound that they had been refining for so long. By the end of April, Dan returned from a Los Angeles production studio with the final master of "...Are Out of Style". "I am so immensely proud of this recording," says Dan. "This represents everything I love about being in the Sobriquets." James agrees. "Every record Dan and I help make together is better than the last one. This one is the best thing I've ever done, hands down." The EP is an account of all the things that make the Sobriquets a seasoned and tight live band. It has elements of the alt-folk Dan and James grew up on ("Decisions, Decisions"), the edgier and harder sounds that Josh brings to the band ("The Thing About This") and Nick's tightly crafted and driving percussion that have truly completed the band as a whole ("Take Me Down"). It's harmonies reach choir-like levels on "Taillights", and the band melds their unique styles with a Nashville flair on "Nightdrive". It is a recording that takes all the elements that each band member brings to the table, showcases each one's talents, and simultaneously produces a sound that is completely separate from it's individual pieces. The EP's title is offered as both a humorous observation that their brand of rock is neither "trendy" nor "now", but also that out of many different styles comes a cohesive and truly endearing sound that transcends genre labels and buzzwords. Good, honest songwriting, careful arrangement and an unflagging attention to ones craft will never be out of style, says the band. The Sobriquets continue to play to crowds all over the Northeast, and have planned a summer tour that will take them to new places and new people in cities like Boston, Providence, Buffalo, Portland and many others. Armed with a release as polished as "...Are Out Of Style", the band is confident in bringing their music to new venues and making many return trips back to the places they already know and love. 2009 is a year that will be spent largely in a van, in cramped backrooms of clubs and on floors of friends and fellow musicians, but the band wouldn't have it any other way.